Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Only Meaning Of The Seed Pods Is "Chance Rules"

*My previous post bore such a striking resemblance to this piece, I wanted to share it, as well. I wrote this in the Spring of 2008, and after all I've passed through since then, it now carries a special kind of bittersweet meaning.

I crushed seedpods under my feet on the pavement. You held one beloved family pet and said good bye to another beloved family pet. We both stood back and watched as he gave that sideways smile. Back in an empty space with large windows, we sat and contemplated where our things would go. In this season of insufficient time, less money, and your prophecy of yard sales, we find ourselves sheltering on opposite ends of a town we view with an uneasy approval.

Things are changing, we are all feeling it. I have never seen a moving van so full of potential before today. Particle board and mattresses, a broken amplifier, and a heavy TV we'll all hate for a long time, we'd packed and unpacked one life away from all it'd known.

Capriciously I stamped the seeds, deliberately, seeking out more as you talked to him and held your dog. We'll wane here, slowly shedding what we've begun- this song, this refrain fading out in the medley as we hit another verse, a different song. While we're transitioning slowly, mutating, combining our lives, across town, by the college none of us attended, there's a chapter closing and and a new beginning, clearly, a new volume. As his boxes are unpacked, we go to separate houses, waiting until our own big moving day, our own full trailer, our gypsy family camping for a season.

'Some seeds fell on the rocks, some were eaten by the crows, some fell on good soil'. I wondered which seeds I might be stepping on, like a game of hopscotch. I thought about all the fabled seeds: magic beans, these, or perhaps here the good seed, here the bad. As in all departures, things are left behind. I do this deliberately, as my own form of unsentimental remembering: 'That was the apartment where I left my painting of a tree on top of the fridge'. Also, I do it for a song about diners and long car rides; my own little homage to that lyrical turn. But often things remaining are things forgotten: the water dish, the cell phone charger.

These seeds were doomed when they landed on the top level of this parking deck, I thought. So much concrete between us and the soil, all I was doing was crushing the germs of tiny plants which would never take root, anyway. That which does not have potential can not be canceled. The dog seemed to know, as domesticated pets often do, that change surrounded us all. As if a sign, an offering to the change, you set a new water dish for her, as though the old one had been removed: downstairs, new, fresh water, like a treat. She drank it, and we laughed. Later you suspected she had forgotten about it, and when you sat out to remind her, it seemed like maybe you were right: she returned to it as though it was new.

These seeds reminded me that winter was actually over, we'd been counting our few reliable hints of the coming warmth. This spring will forever be remembered for its cruelty, the way it gave us cold, clouds and rain, only to remind us that spring can not be trusted. There was no telling how long they'd been here, these seeds, how long since they fell from the trees, blown by fitful winds to where I stood. How long ago had this begun, the story that would end with me? How long ago did these seeds land in a place they could never grow? A place where I'd happen along, a catalyst for the inevitable, giving permanent evidence to what was already true: these seeds will not bear fruit.

The Cannon Is Closed But The Manna Still Falls

She handed me an acorn, "For the writer's block", she said.
"Should I write about it?" I asked her.

The previous evening we'd met at the bar and played some pool. We then left to look at the stars, and afterwards an even further diminished party, three of us, climbed the ridge. I had trouble getting to sleep, and when I finally did, it was a dreamless instant four hours long. The acorns were falling, on tents, on cars, on buildings, and occasionally, people. The acorns were a hard green rain that morning,but once on the open expanse of the festival site, we were free from the noise and bombardment. That evening, upon returning to the camp ground, I was again met with the broken silence of a wood slinking into autumn. The pods of growth and potential were everywhere, announcing themselves with a knock. Change is like this, a swift falling down, a quick-or-you'll-miss-it event, and then your world clips along a different road, and you're not even sure you've turned. the grounds were littered with them, all seeds, all divergent paths, all possible trees, all possible food for a squirrel.

On this, our last weekend of our first year here at a garden-turned-festival, the change fell around us. Now, as I begin to embrace a move to the city, a new life planned for myself, The Ground is littered with potential. All weekend, I was careful not to trip on the possibilities, an eye cocked skyward so not to be hit on the head by what was to come.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Cop Out

Trying To Blog Well
Inspiration Far Too Rare
Pressing Gamely On

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Living The Dream Despite Your Best Efforts, Loki.

We walked down the hill, soaking wet, and I said, "You know, if this is a bad day at work..."
"I know what you mean." he replied.

The festival closed at three on Sunday, and the rain again just absolutely had its way with my tent and all inside it. I got grumpy, and I got drunk. I send my half-hearted apologies to my brother's date ("Oh, fine, when you get back you can tell me all about your daddy issues!"); but being herself a like minded Scorpio, I don't believe she was anything but faintly amused by my loudmouthed antics. Also I thank her for the Frank Turner recommendation.

Friday evening I had the great fortune to make a quick buck helping out a film maker I know in recording an album release party for Myron Waldon. Let me say: buy his records. I really, really enjoyed it. I hope the footage I captured meets his expectations. It was an amazing feeling, moving at a steady clip though SoHo, to get to Penn. Station (yep, still hell) and finally to Seacaucus junction to meet Bryan and take the train north. We had a beer at the Junction Bar, and hopped the train to be met by our good friend, and aerialist-in-chief, Jayna Lee.

Saturday was a great day at the fair, and Saturday night brought us a wonderful cheap-beer fueled dance party on site.  My FIRST order of business was to buy myself a beer. Second order of business was to buy a certain Vixen a beer. I was busying with myself with the task of getting drunk enough to dance when a good friend of mine, who is by the way among the last people I expected to show up, did just that with her dog tagging along. Now, for her, bringing Mikey to a dance party is par the course. I told her I'd be more than happy to Mikey-sit so she could have a good time, and she informed me that "Mikey the Purse" would totally get me laid. I was well pleased with this arrangement, and proceeded to wander around with Mikey's leash clipped to my belt. Here's the thing, though- I was much more eager to just enjoy the party, play with the dog, show him off. I was to some small degree the life of the party, Well, one of many "lives of the Party", of course, and really it was Mikey, not me; but the point is made. I'm more social than I am randy, and when the party was over, alone though I was, I counted it a win. Sunday, as I mentioned, rained pretty much for the whole day. We got two shows in, one of which was scheduled for after the fair closed anyway. The evening was spent playing word games with the delightful ladies at the hair braiding booth; and finally we retired to the pub. By that time I was cranky enough that six songs in the jukebox couldn't save me. I'm pretty sure I slept backstage, but some how woke up in my tent. Eight AM rolled around and I was soggy, hungover, and ready to get the hell OUT of those woods. So I packed a bag and started walking. about 2 miles out the rain came back, with a vengeance, and I stuck out my thumb. I got a ride to the station, changed my clothes, and grabbed coffee and and a sandwich at the deli across the street.

It's all part of the adventure.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Good News Is, You Can Get A Tarot Card Reading For Ten Dollars.

"I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air..."

-Bob Dylan

"Tangled Up In Blue" was released in January 1976. One year later, on the self- same Montague Street in Brooklyn, Haagan Daz opened their first retail store. Today, the street boasts a Radio Shack, a Subway Sandwich franchise, a Sprint store, and a few other embarrassments. To be fair, the diner and the candy shop are open 24 hours. Now, don't get me wrong; I absolutely love Haagan Daz Ice
Cream, but last night on a four AM walk to the Promenade my little heart sank. This song has been important to me for a long time, and in many ways, just as much as On The Road, I fancied myself growing into the narrative. But it's 2010 and let's just say, well, The times they are a-changin'

A further walk down the promenade reveals a breathtaking view of downtown Manhattan south of the Brooklyn Bridge. The sky line is marred, though, by a giant Verizon logo on the side of the building. I recognize that I'm a little late on this rant, but it's biting especially hard when I've got Dylan on the brain.
It was four in the morning and I sat at the diner enjoying a slice of pie, thinking about the passage of time, and the Starbucks a block down. This, when I look back, will be where there was "Music in the cafés at night".
Let's be real. It's going on; this gentrification, this modernization. I get it.  There are enough college sophomores complaining about it that I don't need to join in. And on some levels, I'm pragmatic enough that I don't feel the need to. But there's something about wrecking the zeitgeist captured in a song that stings much harder than the generalized knowledge of what once was. I made a brief mention in an earlier post of songs as artifacts and this reinforces what I was trying to say. With my two visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art I thought a lot about the fact that the majority of pieces there, probably an overwhelming majority, once functioned as tools in everyday life. The pottery, the stemware, the weapons, the furniture. And now, they're preserved behind glass and their one function is to be looked at and studied. What Inca villager had this in mind when weaving baskets? If songs are artifacts, what's their destiny? Digital media threatens our exposure to the arts in the same way Kudzu vines threaten our botanical gardens, and I do think there's a downside to limitless access to music: inundation. The Truly Great Art will be hidden behind the truly accessible. What will rise to the top? Similarly, let's be real: every charming, café, bistro, or boutique is really nothing more than a capitalist venture, scarcely different from any big box or chain in it's own infancy. But we prescribe virtue to saving the small, the intimate, the local, and rightly so. Some personableness is sacrificed when changing from "neighborhood haunt" to "locations nationwide". How on earth do we make informed decisions when choosing what to celebrate and embrace?

The point, in this which clearly rambles, is this. Preservation is a priority we seem to be forgetting, and it's impossible to say how far it will go. Sure, I just employed a 'Slippery Slope' argument, and I recognize that it's a bit alarmist to do so.

But, Damn. I was pleased as punch to be walking down Montague Street, feeling like I Was There...

Right up until I saw that Radio Shack.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hummingbird Tags Out

Anthony and I discussed the initial high I've been on now that I'm in the city. He didn't experience it, he says, because he was running from something when he got here. Lord knows I am too, but just because you're escaping doesn't mean you're not also achieving. It's a funny list of things that brought me here, and I remember a vow I once had that 2010 would be my last year in North Carolina. The Promise of te open road seemed to delay that change, and of course some heartology factored in as well. I feel like I got off of the bus a very changed person. I feel like I have a new habitat, a new direction, and honestly, I think I'm standing straighter. Mother's everywhere will take better posture as a good sign, so why shouldn't I?

A conversation with one of Anthony's roommates touched on being a different person between 13 and sixteen, and my oldest friend and I agreed, having shared those years, that neither of us really changed that much. Now, 16 to 20, and 20 to 25 saw great metamorphosis in each of us. And while I've for a while now hated, hated, all mention of the quarter-life crisis; I have to hang up my pride and admit I'm having one now. You wake up one morning and realize you've got scant two and a half months to be in your late twenties, and you're really not ready. Self-identity struggles are always buried pretty deep, and I swing in and out of that well pretty frequently, but I really believe I'm easing comfortably enough into a new iteration. maybe it's the city, maybe it's that awful mix of heartbreak and bewilderment, maybe I'm just in a bitter down swing. But try not to see this as a testament of darkness or Gothic tendencies when I say the hummingbird is now a Crow. I think one can grow in and out of Animal Totems, sure. I feel less like flitting about these days, and appreciate more than ever the description of one particular hero of mine after his own passage through something-
He was described as, if I remember correctly, "laughing less often but more loudly" (I poured over websites and both of the books I suspected it to be in, to come up lacking. It's very difficult to find).

That, my friends, is the good word on one Gandalf StormCrow.

Genus Corvus need not represent all things dark and deadly. It's just a feeling that I get. I don't know how to make this work, but I'm doing it. Home, Job? What to do, where to go, when off the road? I don't know. I will find the cheapest place to live in the city, I will do whatever works. Is this a new me? Who can say. Will all of this wear off? No reason to suspect it won't, these transformations and plans and changes have worn off before. I've never had a plan come together, I'm the king of dead ends, but damn it somethings got to work- why not the new, weightless, positive, me? I'm not looking to abandon the old life I led- I've been down that road. But there are things of which I will not speak and corridors I will not revisit. I want to be improved.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An Excuse, But First We've Got Some Catching Up To Do

Surely, surely, he's got a good reason, I say a damn good reason, for this...week and a half lag in updating. Sure he does.

I'll get to that.

I'm at my most thoughtful, ever, and it's getting almost taxing. On some levels I feel like a script, with improving dialogue, dropped characters, and new settings. Some scenes have been dropped altogether, and the writer decided to highlight some of the religious overtones. I feel certain I am gaining better insight and control regarding who I am, but at times and nagged with doubt, that I might be losing that very thing.
I spent two days at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was amazing. To b honest, it was the American wing that came out of nowhere to blow me away, all tiffany glass and period rooms. The crafting was amazing. The deep storage room at the met is probably my favorite part, its just shelves and shelves and shelves behind glass of artifacts, with no context, in some cases multiple versions of the same piece, large busts, furniture, baseball cards... it's a wonderful, wonderful closet.
I also went to the East Village over my hiatus, and Boy! Did I ever love it. Dirty, Touristy, but not like Times Square, and full of Eastern Europeans and Flaming Queens. I think technically it was Washington Square/NYU area, to be fair. And I'm kind of falling for Astoria, too. If you want really tasty pizza and super friendly people, go to Rizzo's.
I'm extremely lucky right now, because at each end of the weekend I am excited to leave, and then return to, the city. Of course, the camping is less enjoyable with rain, but we make do.
We had an incredible weekend at the festival, a ton of fun, hats we an't complain about, and even the rain made the day fun!
I completely realize this post is lacking in any real refinement, but I wanted to get something up quick, to make up for the week off. And about that.... the train ride from Brooklyn to Tuxedo is a tricky one, because the train from Seacacaus doesn't run frequently. So, as my partner and I strolled in to the NJ transit terminal of Penn. Station AND THE POWER WENT OFF it was a delay that cost us. We got to Secaucus Junction with about two and a half hours to kill. How did we kill them? We drowned them in pitchers of sangria. Three pitchers of sangria, to be exact. So as soon as we boarded our Tuxedo bound train I fell right to sleep, and was pretty foggy when we got off to wait for our ride onto site. I plugged in the lap top to charge in the waiting area, and left it there. I didn't realize my mistake until Saturday afternoon or so, and wasn't able to start making any phone calls until Monday. NJ transit: nothing. MTA North: Nothing. Police Department for the town of Tuxedo: success! My net book was picked up by an officer making rounds at ten PM Friday. This past Monday, I was able to get a ride into town from some hippies, and a soft-spoken Moroccan gentleman (recently divorced, probably depressed) took me to the Police station. I retrieved my computer and then rode back to the city. My book bag broke and there was a leak over my seat, I lost and had to re-buy my ticket (an extra 16 bucks) and Penn. station at five thirty was of course a madhouse, but I made it, to Brooklyn, intact, and reunited with my little toy computer. Hopefully, Updates will return to a schedule that isn't stupid. Also, they'll hopefully have some meat on their bones and not just be random stops along my way.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Shuffling Towards The Fair

Bryan came in late last night after Anthony and I took in a truly, truly amazing show: Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, and a special guest, the amazing songwriter Greg Trooper. I enjoyed one of the better Bloody Mary's I've yet enjoyed (You're still number one, Zada Jane's!). We crashed pretty quickly after Bryan arrived, and set out early this morning. Right now we're hunkered down at Penn Station waiting for our train to Tuxedo. This afternoon we'll be setting up camp, getting our sound checked in, and hopefully socializing with the folks up here at NYRF.

I'll take a minute now to briefly mention my thoughts on 'Dinner for Schmucks'.
The film stars Paul Rudd and Steve Carrel, with an excellent supporting cast including Jemaine Clement, Zack Galifinakis, and David Walliams.
Most strikingly, there's a lot more to the plot of this film than any trailers will let on. 'Schmucks' deals more with the unravelling of the life of Tim (Rudd) in the wake of his meeting (Barry). The dinner itself occupies maybe 20 minutes of the film, and it seems to me they were just about to wrap filming when somebody remembered they had the word 'dinner' in the title. The film's greatest accomplishment is Carrell's performance, which brings Steve Martin to mind even more than his previous work. I really do believe this is one of the more astounding comedic performances I've seen, and it's a shame that it should be wasted in such a bland outing. Rudd again plays the straight man to perfection; while by nature a rarely stunning feat, it is one that should not go overlooked. Galifinakis is of course being Galifinakis, and I am seriously beginning to question his shelf life. The man is remarkably talented and clever, and gave a nicely understated performance, -barely even  a cameo- in 'Into The Wild'; but I'd like to see what else he can do beyond "stuffy haughty or nervous guy'. Clement, of Flight of the Conchords fame, is turning in a fun performance, but I have to echo my friend who mentioned that with that script, the laughs for his character wrote themselves.

On the whole, it's a disjointed, awkward affair, more comfortable with your discomfort than with tickling your funny bone. Carrell provides a lot of warmth and sweetness, and there's lots of zaniness throughout, but the romantic subplot is at times disconcerting. One a technical level, this makes it a remarkable film, as one is not quite sure how it manages to deliver this level of discomfort so effectively. But it sadly falls short the giddy, ridiculous comedic realm of 'The Hangover' or 'Superbad'

All in all, I was rather let down. While I wouldn't go so far as to say it was over-hyped, my hopes had been set rather high. It's worth seeing on it's technical successes, there are a few visual gags in addition to it's mysterious  emotional capabilities. But the primary draw is still Carrell's work here, channeling all of his  his loveable awkwardness, but differentiating nicely from previous work.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Road To Somewhere Is Paved With Something.

So, I want to update this at least 3 times a week, and while my four posts yesterday make it easy for me to excuse skipping today, there's just no discipline in that. While this is ostensibly a travel log, it'll surely dip in and out of other topics. so I will give myself a bit of a free pass today, just a bit,and briefly relay my time here thus far. When I'm a little less ragged there'll be more meat on these bones, I assure you.

I got in last night around two in the morning, and walked a few blocks down 42nd st. to take the train to the home of my oldest friend. He lives in Brooklyn, and initially for this trip I was, I shamelessly admit, a bit intimidated. My biggest fear though, and this is the silly part, wasn't about my safety. It was about looking 'Touristy'. Ridiculous, I know. The trip was easy, and we stayed up until after 5 talking and catching up. Sometime after dawn my allergies caught up with me, in a hellish way, and I paced and coughed and blew my nose. I downed about a half bottle of cough syrup to collapse back on the couch and sleep until 2.
I woke up, showered, and left. A cup of coffee at the donut place, and a few hours reading this months Foreign Policy Magazine; Which is really quite fantastic. It details their listing of failed states, and includes a few articles and essays on various troubles afflicting these barely-governed nations, and the thugs and dictators pulling the strings. is it recommended? Highly. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking down Court,Montague, and Henry streets here in Brooklyn. I had some cheap but unsatisfying pizza, and hopped a train to SoHo to meet Tony when he got off work for the Steve Earle concert...which was actually scheduled for the following night. Brilliant. So, instead, we picked up some beers, ordered in some Middle Eastern food (the  lentils soup was good, the baba ganoush was AMAZING) and caught a showing of 'Dinner for Schmucks'. Honestly, my expectations for the film were rather high, and I was let down. However, Steve Carrell's performance was utterly masterful, so cheers to him for that.

I tried to relay to tony the ebullience I'm feeling today. It's not unlike a high, really, a deep sense of rightness. I think I'll stay, I may never go back to Charlotte. I sent some photos i snapped on my phone to my parents and sister while I was at the promenade in Brooklyn Heights:

Tomorrow promises to actually hold a concert, as well as the arrival of my partner-in-crime Bryan. But for now, SLEEP.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

As Promised

The cutest tiny thing, plus what is possibly the largest cute thing

Thus far, attempts at cross breeding have failed, but i will pay top dollar for my amphibious Belpuga

Cherry Blossoms

You toil down the big blank highway past Richmond. If you're lucky, or smart, or had the time, you exchanged a few miles on US 29 north of Danville, and caught the slow swell of those hills in Virginia's most gorgeous country. But eventually you sidled up to Interstate 95 like a meeting with your ex ("No, that's my postal service CD"). The monotony is broken as you approach the river, and there's the Washington Monument peeking over the low skyline like the nephew who gleefully spoils the surprise party seconds early. And you think, 'well that's nice'. But for me, it's as you quickly take it all in; there's the Jefferson lit up like democracy's front porch and you're invited for tea.
I find it stirring, I really do. It makes me proud, that drive. It's easy, in these lean days, to get bitter. to get just mad. but we have to remember that we are participants in the greatest social experiment ever. Our country, let's face it, was formed by some pretty snobby intellectual-superior types. This excites me! Our ideals are peerless, here in the Republic.
But let me be real, and possibly get myself in trouble. Hang around for the ending, you'll get off my back.
'Patriotism' really is a bad word to me. I hate it. Still with me? Good. I am going somewhere with this. The ideals behind the word are beyond admirable. But I'd liken patriotism as it's understood today to any vulgar sex euphemism. let's go with 'screw' as it's not exactly mild, but not beyond the pale. "Screw" is a dirty word used to to describe a gorgeous act. Patriotism encompasses something wonderful but i think it's come to include a kind of uncomfortable nationalism, as well. A strong love of country, a jealous defense of it even, is a trait every citizen should posses. But temper it with the knowledge- and acceptance- that we all live in a global community, and have a responsibility to that community. My country is like all of my loved ones. severely maladjusted, but precious to me nonetheless. I absolutely love the foundation our government rests on, and deeply believe that government can make people's lives better, but its done so in fits and starts for, what, a century now?
I don't recall what street it's on, but not far from the National Mall is a church with a neon sign across the front: "A Monument to Jesus" it reads. A reminder that even this close to the seat of government, Americans are cynical regarding their leaders. I love it. It brings me down from the poetic heights inspired by the Memorials, but reminds me that the people on this endeavor beside me are kooks.
Amidst all of the idealism, we're grounded in doubt and pragmatism. I applaud this, I do, but who's up for reconnecting with those ideals? there's a Jeep commercial circulating right now that gets me every time: "this was once a country where people made things, beautiful things. and so it is again."
 To some, the following will be seen as critical, but it's an expression of deep, deep love: My country is so heavy with unrealized potential, and I want to see it unleashed.


I gave up on the Internet as a social tool about a year ago, yet here I am. This comes on the advice of several people (OK, just my Mother) and it does feel good to challenge myself thusly. to update daily... can I do it? I've always got something to say, and frankly my life's gotten so damn interesting lately, how can I not talk about it? This, coupled with the free time I have means a lot of musings. So here we are.
In November of 2008 I joined a cult, a coven, a gang and a family. I fell in with a group of hack wizards who hung up their wands for dirty jokes, and it was the best thing thats happened to me. Since that time, I've been to the desert, New England, Florida a few times, New York, South Dakota, Texas, and Georgia which technically counts as 'someplace'. Our little outfit tours Renaissance Festivals all over the country telling slightly skewed stories. Oh, here:


I lived for a while in trailers, tents, hotels and trucks. Juggling knives, elephants (not juggled), and fire breathing have become normal. I participated in a conversation once about "oh you know, just your average hurdy-gurdy".
Also, I'm one of those guys with an always volatile love life. so that gives me lots to brood about, too.

Adventures to expect herein:

Road Stories
Renaissance Festival Anecdotes
Drunken Adventures
Slapstick & Grief
Arts Criticism
Dating Mishaps
Drunken Adventures, Revised
Brooding & Thoughtfulness
Attempts To Produce Meaningful Fiction
Pug Worship

Set Sail!

Robinson Crusoe's Headphones

If you eavesdrop enough in coffee shops or bars, you'll realize that my generation suffers an irrational fear of being stranded on desert islands. To our credit, we spend a lot of time preparing, mentally, for this eventuality. We plan, we consider, we debate. Commonly, the biggest question is which music to take. And that question's gotten weird, as my peers have watched it go from “which CD's do you take?” to I guess, “what do you download before leaving?” or something. And of course previous generations worried over tapes and albums, but I do think this latest shift is the most significant. So I've been giving this some thought and have come to the conclusion that I could make due with only two recordings:

'Big Country' By Bela Fleck, and Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 ('The New World Symphony')
If I get to pick, I'll take the live version of 'Big Country', recorded at The Quick. And as long as the No. 9 is handled competently, by a professional orchestra, I'll be happy. I do like classical recordings where you can hear the occasional cough, though.

Both of these are pieces that will keep your hope from flagging and you'll possibly even remain in love with everything. They're broad, like landscape paintings put to music. They're inspiring; one is jubilant, the other is resolute and stirring. I'll tackle 'Big Country' first.

As the name implies, this song evokes the broad, glorious American landscape, and thanks to Bela Fleck's Jazz banjo styling, it strikes me as first and foremost a Southern journey. I'm not typically a fan of jam bands; I generally feel that it's true for both the Dead and Phish that their studio work outshines the live 'experience'. Heresy, I know, but I guess really for me it's about separating the event of the concert from the artifact of the song. That being said, this song, to me, is the ultimate expression of what a 'Jam' should be. It reminds me a little of the Bremmentown Musicians, and it seems to have a life of it's own outside of the artists performing it.
It feels very much like listening in on a conversation between a few very good friends who speak an incredibly beautiful language. The excitement builds, they reach agreements, they finish each others sentences, the saxophone is convincing the guitar to just go, the guitar gladly acquiesces, and the banjo comes in to lead them like Dean Moriarty. It's jaunty, it brings to mind all of our best folk traditions. If functions perfectly as an instrumental of course, and thats just as well, because the only man who could ever fittingly compose lyrics for this tall-tale hymn would be Mark Twain.

Antonin Dvorak, as a Russian, managed to capture what so many foreigners do and so few Americans ever can: the true scope and grip of our country. Outsiders don't take anything for granted. The New World Symphony is a sort of imaginary train ride through the whole nation, from coast to coast, New England, bayou, desert, Rockies, and plains. It evokes the Industrial Revolution, the Civil War, and the first World War. It's darker than 'Big Country', but with a glimmer of hopefulness that keeps it from receding into melancholy. To me, this piece has always been a kind of call to action, a stirring anthem to embrace that which makes us great. In its minor tonality, it also highlights the problems we've faced, and all in all, this work encapsulates my feelings on the Republic. Everything I love about our country is there: the people, the vision, the landscape, the brotherhood. But in it's downturns, it also mediates on our struggles with our social contract and our departure from the original vision of our founders. It's both a celebration and a dirge for what the industrial revolution has done to what should have been a nation of farmers; but for better or for worse, has become a nation of builders.

Of course there's much more to each of these pieces than my thoughts of American history and culture. They're both just incredibly wrought expressions, and just plain fun. But for a response more intellectual than emotional (Cohen's 'Suzanne', while an amazing song which I love, would only hasten the desert island suicide.) I'd choose to be left with these two, as they'd help me hold on to hope and sanity. They'd keep me thinking, keep me ambitious, and remind me that we're all on the shoulders of giants, no matter how far from them we may be.

Incidentally, I write all of this while traveling in a Greyhound bus from North Carolina to New York. I'm watching it all slide by silently out my window, and I'm very, very glad I didn't choose to fly.